“Iron Man 3” is not just a great Marvel movie, it’s a great movie movie. Crisp, fun and filled with legitimate surprises, Shane Black’s second effort as a director is like a large-scale remake of “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” constricted only by the demands of Marvel mythology and Disney accountants. It’s a welcome relief, especially after the feeling of rote box-checking in Joss Whedon’s “Marvel’s The Avengers,” an adequate blockbuster that threw a lot of balls into the air at once and only caught a few as they fell.
“Iron Man 3,” by contrast, doesn’t really try to do that much. The story here is very self-contained: After the events of “Marvel’s The Avengers,” Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is facing a crisis of conscience and a low-grade case of post-traumatic stress disorder. Over the course of the film, Stark must battle his own demons and solve a small mystery: Who is the evil terrorist The Mandarin (Sir Ben Kingsley) and what does he want to accomplish? This is Johnny Gossamer in a tin suit.
Going small, however, is big for the movie: Black, perhaps unlike Whedon, doesn’t seem to regard these superhero movies in any sort of esteemed way; he’s more than happy to take the piss out of expected comic book conventions time and again. (The film’s coda, in fact, almost renders the entire movie moot.)
In that regard, “Iron Man 3” is like “Ocean’s 12,” Steven Soderbergh’s underrated masterpiece, which shredded the blueprint for making an easy, audience-pleasing sequel. “Iron Man 3” takes a flamethrower to the Marvel structure, yet leaves the foundation intact just enough so that future directors can rebuild by using the ashes. (Credit for this can also go to Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige, who understands the value of this brand but knows he can rest on its laurels.) The result is the best superhero movie since “The Dark Knight” and a crowning achievement that might be tough for other summer movies to beat. All hail Iron Man.
Almost four months after that great BuzzFeed piece on “Smash,” Theresa Rebeck emailed BuzzFeed with some complaints. Funny thing: Outside of her request to pull the piece down, she actually sounds pretty reasonable. Rebeck even notes that she’d be willing to discuss the entire thing on the record, so long as she wasn’t sandbagged. Not that anyone would care, though, since they’re all too busy LOL at what a weird clown Rebeck is for writing the email in the first place. Pause here for one of those “Smash” eye rolls.
I had some more than a few major problems with “Marvel’s The Avengers,” but the biggest was the film’s complete lack of stakes. Almost everyone was invincible in Joss Whedon’s 2012 blockbuster, whether because they were superhuman or beholden to future films. Nothing was going to happen to Tony Stark in “Marvel’s The Avengers,” if only because Marvel needed him for “Iron Man 3.” (That’s a good thing, too, since “Iron Man 3” is, by far, the best Marvel movie and also one of the best summer movies released during the last few years.)
Which is why, despite my reservations about “Marvel’s The Avengers,” Agent Phil Coulson’s death was pretty great. It seemed obvious in hindsight: Clark Gregg’s character was, of course, going to perish. It’s the only reason he had such an enhanced role in “Marvel’s The Avengers,” a movie that had to find room for no fewer than six superheros and Nick Fury and Robin Sparkles and Loki.
Except Coulson didn’t die. Not, at least, according to the new television pilot, “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.,” which puts Gregg’s Coulson in starring role. According to Slashfilm, the resurrection of Agent Coulson will be explained away via the old soap opera standby of faked death. (Never mind that Coulson was stabbed through the chest by Loki’s mythical spear.) It stinks, it’s lazy and, frankly, everyone has come to expect better of Marvel. Moreover, bringing Coulson back to life on television negatively affects the films in the Marvel universe. It robs them of even more stakes and turns the one part of “Marvel’s The Avengers” that had any real humanity into a blockbuster variation on “psych!”
Thank goodness, then, for “Iron Man 3.” Shane Black’s take on Tony Stark is, as mentioned, incredible fun. It’s funny: Without giving away anything, “Iron Man 3” includes a few moments of intentional misdirection, but because the whole movie is so decidedly human — Stark has never been as flawed or vulnerable as he is in “Iron Man 3” — those fake-outs can be forgiven. In fact, they’re actually welcome: Black manages to have his cake and eat it too, giving “Iron Man 3” stakes without giving it stakes. It’s something Joss Whedon can learn from for “The Avengers 2.” Here’s hoping, even with a living and breathing Coulson, that he does.